“And so, what? Everybody stands around in a field and chants, and then the flying saucers just show up?” I asked, watching the suburbs roll by out the window.
“There’s no chanting,” Dana said, smiling patiently as she drove. “You try and contact them in whatever way feels right to you. It’s different for everyone.”
“What do you do, to get them to show up?”
“I visualize them arriving, and try and project a feeling of welcome out into the universe. Some people meditate, sing, do yoga.”
“Smoke a little weed,” I leered.
“Hey man, whatever works!” Dana laughed.
These UFO watch parties were Dana’s newest thing. She’d heard about them from a friend in her spin class, and since her tarot club had disbanded (over irreconcilable arguments regarding the utility of the Thoth deck versus the traditional Rider Waite cards) she was eager to explore a new outré hobby. That’s how Dana was, always trying to find new, strange edges of the human experience. She believed that all that stuff, the occult, the paranormal, weird fringey beliefs, were the ways people tried to order a fundamentally unordered universe, create meaning and purpose in their lives that they found fulfilling. It was endearingly optimistic, and that was why I happily joined her on these explorations into the unknown.
Well, that and the hope that, one day, she’d decide to try weird tantric sex, and I’d be there to help her out.
Until then, we hopped from cult to cult, sampling a little of everything, so long as it came from the wrong side of the tracks; we’d joined the OTO, got big into Medieval Alchemists and John Dee’s Angels, then gone Bigfooting in Washington. We camped and hiked all over Mt. Shasta, we visited Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Ghost hunting in New England. Midnight strolls through Untermeyer Park. Roswell, Area 51, the Winchester Mystery House. It was all fun. We’d spin the wheel and see where it landed; this time, it was UFOs.
I hadn’t been able to make the first couple of meet-ups with Dana, so she’d explained it to me. They were led and organized by an old hippie named Jim Crawford, one of the original psychonauts who had, once, been plugged into the California occult scene. He’d known and hung around with Ken Anger, Paulo Vibrani, Robert de Grimston, and Ruth Norman. In the 80s, while on a desert retreat in New Mexico, Crawford had had a UFO experience that convinced him that the saucers were A) friendly and B) receptive to psychic summons from earthlings. And now, well into his seventies, Crawford would lead groups of people out into the wilderness to call up UFOs, apparently with some success.
“They get some pretty wild pictures,” Dana had said, trying to convince me to join her. “People have said they’ve seen weird lights, shiny discs, and some say they receive messages, too.”
“Did you see anything?” I’d asked.
“Well, nothing spectacular,” she grinned. “A bright light, very far away. That was it. But we almost never see anything anyway, do we?” She’d punched me in the arm. “C’mon! Don’t abandon me!”
“How much does it cost?” That was always the big difference between Dana and I; she had a much higher tolerance for chucking money away, so long as she had fun. But I had rent to make, damn it!
“He asks people to chip in five or ten, whatever they can, to cover snacks and drinks, but that’s it.”
That was rare – a lot of these guys, especially the old gurus, had pretty clear ideas regarding the market value of Universal Enlightenment. But Crawford wasn’t charging for his guidance, no membership fees or tithing or anything. So I really didn’t have any excuses.
It was a good hour and a half drive to get to the top of Ballard Peak, a scrubby hill on the edge of Magoon State Forest, north of the city. It was a sunny day, a few clouds, warm and bright – not what I’d consider prime Saucer watching conditions. But there were plenty of car in the lot already, and Dana put my concerns to ease though as we pulled in.
“They get some daylight sightings, but it apparently takes a while for them to receive the messages and gather together. It’ll get better when night comes on, I promise.” She rolled a joint and handed it to me, and we smoked as we walked the half-mile up the trail to the assembly area.
It was a surprising group, actually. There were a few starchildren, beads and white people dreads, and a camera-fetishist UFO nut or two, but mostly just regular folks, neighborhood types you might run into in coffee shops or restaurants. If old Crawford had been charging, he’d have been doing all right – there were at least thirty people, and we’d heard more coming up the trail behind us.
“Where is the Space Brother?” I giggled. Dana scanned the crowd.
“There he is!” she said. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
He wasn’t what I expected, honestly. Last of the burnouts, I’d kind of imagined a gonzo Jerry Garcia, or maybe a more psychedelic Hunter S. Thompson. Anything but the clean-shaven and painfully thin little man in cargo shorts and salmon pink golf shirt that Dana introduced as Jim Crawford.
“Dana, glad you could make it again,” he said, smiling. “And you brought your friend, welcome!” We shook hands. “Here to see some UFOs?” he smiled. “Be sure to get some water; it’s hot out here today! There’s sunscreen too, don’t get burned, okay?” He waved and walked off, shaking hands and saying hello to everyone as he walked through the meadow.
“A little disappointed?” said Dana, as she rubbed sunscreen into her legs.
“Well,” I said, rummaging through the cooler for a drink. “I guess I expected something a little more out there, you know?” I stood up and gestured. “This is a pretty, uh, soccer-mom and cul-de-sac kind of crowd, isn’t it?” She laughed and shrugged.
“Cross section of America,” she said. “Or at least part of it. Hey, it’ll get better in a bit. I promise you: today, you will see a UFO.”
We sat down on some beach blankets. Other people were in folding chairs or sat on coolers, and a few folks had strung hammocks between the trees on the edge of the clearing. All told, there were forty or so people scattered over a couple of acres, with Crawford making regular circuits of the space. When everyone had gotten settled and it seemed like most people were here, he went to his own spot near the middle of the clearing and sat down. That seemed to be the signal.
A pair of women next to us held crystals in their hands and gazed up to the sky. A man laid out on his back and hummed. I heard a group actually begin a quiet chant, and elbowed Dana, who was folding herself into lotus position.
“What am I supposed to do?” I asked. She closed her eyes.
“You gotta find your own path, man,” she said.
I leaned back and closed my eyes.
“Dana,” I said after a minute. “All I can think about is getting abducted. Is that bad, Dana?” She giggled and slapped at my arm.
At some point I must’ve gone too deep into my meditative summoning of the aliens, because I woke up with Dana shaking me gently. It was dark.
“Ah shit,” I yawned. “What I miss?”
“They’re here!” she said, helping me to stand up.
Everyone was gathered at the far end of the clearing, near a fence overlooking the cliff. It was a good view of the sky, facing north, away from the city lights south, and you could actually see the stars.
“There’s another one!” someone said. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.
“Where?” I said, leaning close to Dana.
“Uh, there, like, nine o’clock, maybe a hand above the horizon?” I squinted.
Sure enough, scudding along in wide, shallow arcs, there was a dot of light, brighter than the stars, swimming through the sky on the horizon. It seemed to almost bounce along, two or three times, then suddenly shot off at a sharp angle.
“Two more to the right there,” someone said, and we all turned. “Look at ‘em go!” Two more bright white lights flit through the sky, one ascending sharply, the other drifting at a low angle before dropping rapidly down and vanishing.
There were lights that would fade in, growing brighter and brighter but holding still, then suddenly wink out. Others careened across the sky, traveling at sharp angles and impossible speeds. Some floated serenely high above the earth, others seemed to be almost skimming the ground. The sightings lasted for almost an hour, and at the peak there were no less than ten of the objects in the sky at once. It was pretty amazing, actually.
“Do they ever come closer?” I asked Dana.
“Oh, sometimes they come quite close, young man,” said a voice behind me. I turned. It was Crawford.
“There sure were a lot of them tonight!” said a man next to us.
“Yes,” said Crawford, his voice low and thoughtful. He sparked a lighter and lit the hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth. In the glow of the flame I saw his face; he looked troubled, and very tired. Then I smelled weed, and gladly accepted the joint from the old man after he’d puffed on it a few times. “There were certainly plenty of them tonight,” he said.
“I gotta say, Mr. Crawford, I’m impressed,” I passed the joint to Dana. “You really delivered!”
“Oh, they’re always out there,” he said.
“Must be some strong senders in the group,” said a woman standing next to Crawford. She gingerly took the joint from Dana, crinkled her nose, and holding it carefully between thumb and forefinger, handed it back to Crawford.
“Yes,” he chuckled. “Undoubtably. Very strong senders.”
“Do you think you’ll be leading any expeditions soon?” asked the woman, hopefully. Crawford took a long drag off the joint, tilted his head back, and exhaled, looking hard into the night sky overhead.
“Could be,” he said. He sounded suddenly tired. “Excuse me,” he said, and walked off.
The party broke up soon after that. On the way back to the car, I asked Dana about the “expeditions” the woman had mentioned.
“Oh, those,” she said. “I guess, every now and then, he invites some members out on longer hikes, into the desert or the mountains, farther back into the country. He says a smaller group, more isolated, can send more concentrated signals, and that the UFOs respond more strongly to them out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Hm,” I said. “Are these hikes still free?”
“I think so,” said Dana.
“So he takes a select group of devotees out into the wilderness, huh?” I smirked. “Bet I can guess the type he likes to invite, too. Eighteen to twenty-four, blonde, nubile…”
“Pervert!” Dana laughed.
We went the next weekend too, and saw even more glowing, darting lights than we did on the previous visit. The thirty or so of us cheered and clapped as they circled and bounced through the sky, a veritable armada of saucers. It was a good time, like a block party up on Ballard Peak, snacks and weed and UFOs.
In fact, the only person who didn’t seem to be having a good time was Crawford. I caught him leaning against a tree at the edge of a clearing, his hands shaking as he drank a beer, staring off into the darkness.
“Pretty active tonight!” I said.
“You don’t know the half of it,” he answered, an edge of something in his voice. Bitterness, maybe, or despair.
As we were packing up, I notice Crawford going around the groups, pulling people aside to talk to them earnestly and quietly. Seven or eight people, as diverse a crowd as you could expect from the UFO watchers there. When he’d finish with one they’d invariably hurry back excitedly to their groups with the good news: they’d been invited on one of his famous retreats.
“They must be something!” I said, “Look at ‘em, it’s like the won the lottery!”
“He doesn’t do them often, really. Four or five times I year, I think. Plus, they’re supposed to make the stuff we saw tonight look tame in comparison,” said Dana. “Close up encounters, crazy stuff, maybe even the occupants!”
“What, they say they see all that?” I asked. Light shows where one thing – the idea that Crawford was regularly introducing people to beings from Zeta Reticuli was just goofy.
“Oh, it’s just rumors,” she laughed, shrugging. “Actually, I don’t think anyone here has been on the retreats, ever!”
“Well then, I can’t wait to hear their stories next week,” I said, and Dana agreed.
But in that, we were disappointed. Not a one of the eight or so people who Crawford had invited were there for the night’s UFO summoning party. True, there was a lot of turnover, week to week, but it was kind of a letdown.
“Man, I wanted to hear who got probed!” I complained, looking around the clearing. Everyone seemed a little miffed, as if we’d all been slighted by the other, cooler kids. But Crawford seemed positively ebullient. For the first time, I think I saw him actually relaxed. He joked with people, jogged all over the clearing, and even engaged in a long debate with one of the regulars, a nerdy looking kid who felt that anything less than a strict adherence to the nuts-and-bolts theory of UFOs was tantamount to unscientific quackery. Crawford laughed at him, long and loud. He was having a grand old time.
It was a disappointing night for UFOs, too. Nothing for hours, and then only the barest of blips, lazy lights drifting here and there. None of the acrobatics of the previous evenings, and certainly none of the numbers; I think I saw two in the sky at most, and I was pretty sure one of those was a satellite. We’d been spoiled.
“Oh well,” laughed Crawford, slapping me on the back as we loaded our truck. “Maybe next time!”
I couldn’t make it the next week, but according to Dana it had gotten better again – three or four good, bright discs zipping around. Still no sign of the people who had gone on the retreat with Crawford though, which just made everyone crazier. Some people suggested that he was running two separate groups, that the retreat was an initiation for a second, more secret club. Others hinted that maybe they’d learned the truth about all this – that Crawford was a clever hoaxer, or was a government informant, or was a reptoid from Algol himself. I figured they’d probably just gotten busy with their lives; every single weekend was kind of a serious commitment, after all. Maybe they’d just had enough.
But Dana wanted to keep going. She was having fun, and thought there was something interesting about the mercurial Crawford. And when we went out there again, he was in fact back to his old, morose self. He’d stare up into the sky and answer question with a terse “yes” or “no.” It was strange. The more UFOs there were, the tenser and more troubled he’d get. And he was particularly tense tonight.
“Look at ‘em go!” shouted someone, a newbie I’d not seen before. But his enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced. The evening sky positively swarmed with UFOs. A bright object had glimmered into view, and then another and another and another, the four weaving in and out of formation as they crossed the sky. And it wasn’t even dark yet!
Crawford leaned forward against the fence. His knuckles were white, and more than once he looked away from the sky and down into the ravine with such longing that I was actually afraid he might throw himself over the edge.
I was folding our beach towels when Crawford walked over to us.
“Good show tonight!” said Dana, happily.
“Hm, yes,” Crawford nodded. He coughed and looked around, then glanced at his watch. It was a little after ten on a Friday night. “You two have been coming out here for a few weeks, haven’t you? More, now that I think about it. I take it you’re interested in the phenomenon we’ve been observing?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Dana.
“Good, well,” he paused. “Well, if that’s the case, perhaps you’d like to join me on one of my little trips?” Dana’s eyes goggled.
“So soon after the last one!” she said.
“Well,” he kicked the ground a bit at his feet. “I’m sure you’ve noticed. The phenomenon has been accelerating, lately. Tonight’s events, in fact, were the most activity I’ve ever seen.” He paused and swallowed, and I thought I saw a slight tremor shake his thin chest. “I believe that, well, that there is a message in all this, one I can’t afford to ignore. So I’d like to take some, hm, sympathetic people out to help me.” He looked at her, and then at me. “Both of you, I mean, I’d like both of you to come out with me tomorrow to the Mojave.” He said, looking hard at us. “If you can make it?” he added, almost pleading.
“Of course!” said Dana, excited. “How about you Tom, can you do it?”
“Sure,” I said, nodding. “I’ve got nothing else planned. Let’s do it.”
“Good, good,” he sighed, relieved. He handed Dana a sheet of paper with instructions and times to meet on it, then hurried off, to gather more followers for his sojourn into the desert.
Next morning we all gathered in a gas station parking lot, staring down the wide cement river of Interstate 40 East. The nuts-and-bolts nerd was there, as was the prim lady from my first visit, the one who’d looked so askance at the joint. There were six others, regulars I’d seen many times up on Ballard Peak, plus Dana and I, making for a pretty big group. Around eleven thirty or so Crawford rolled up in a dusty truck. He hopped out and welcomed everyone, shaking hands and patting backs. His eyes were red-rimmed, and he was wired, full of nervous energy.
“Okay everyone,” he said, clapping his hands together. “We’ve got a bit of a ride ahead of us, but it’ll be worth it. I promise you, tonight, you’ll learn things that’ll change the way you look at the universe in general, and UFOs in particular.” He looked at the nuts-and-bolts kid and grinned maniacally. “Yes, even you! In fact, I think you’ll find tonight to be quite conclusive, regarding our discussion the other day.”
We piled in and caravanned our way east, out of the city and towards the dry rocky wasteland of the Mojave. The box stores and the suburbs withered away, replaced by mountains and rocks and the grey and red expanse of the desert. We passed through dry little towns, gas-stations and tourist traps, but even these were soon left behind for the stark solitude of the Mojave.
The Mojave is something else; the driest spot in North America, trapped behind a wall of mountains, it’s the starkest stretch of land I’ve ever seen. Lizards lived there, spiky things inured to heat and deprivation. Us soft, thirsty mammals weren’t meant to live there. We should keep our eyes down and our backs bent as we hurry across it to more pleasant climes. It’s not lonely, because that’s a human thing; it’s its own kind of feeling, the Mojave, a kind of open, stark wideness that can’t be captured, only experienced.
And Crawford was taking us into the heart of it. I’d kind of assumed we’d end up at one of the park camp grounds, but he apparently had some kind of special permit for back country camping. We passed the entrance and then kept on going, another two hours, and when we stopped in the late afternoon it was to find ourselves in the literal middle of nowhere, on a flat sandy expanse in the shadow of a bright red ridge of rocks that stabbed across the landscape.
“We’ll sure see some stars tonight,” said the prim lady.
“It’ll be dark, all right,” said Crawford. He cracked open a beer and drank deeply.
While we set up our tents, Crawford wandered the ridgeline, a six-pack dangling from one hand, his neck craned upwards towards the sky. It was a strange vibe – everyone was excited, but Crawford had been acting weird, furtive almost. He’d hauled us out here, but now he didn’t seem to want to speak with anyone.
I broached the subject over supper. We’d cooked up some spaghetti over a camp stove, and called to Crawford to come join us. He just waved his hand in dismissal and kept strolling. The prim lady shook her head.
“He’s just under a lot of stress,” she said, looking over her shoulder towards him. “I mean, you heard what he said. The phenomenon is increasing in intensity. Something is happening, and I for one am just grateful to be a part of it.”
“Well,” grumbled a man next to her, “we just better see something, is all. That was a hell of drive, and I want something good.”
“You can’t approach it like something you’re owed,” scolded the woman. “Our mental state has to be in the right frame, if we’re going to grow from this experience.”
“Oh, come on,” said the nuts-and-bolts guy. “That woo-woo shit is nonsense. These ships, and their pilots, don’t care about your feelings. They’re here to study us, and harvest our DNA.”
The prim woman started talking about auras and George Adamski, and soon an argument broke out. Dana rolled her eyes, and she and I slipped away to the other side of camp, where the cars were. I rolled a joint and we smoked, looking up at the deepening sky and the stars coming out.
“I’m starting to understand why none of the others came back after their ‘retreat,’” I said.
“Yeah, it’s kind of weird, isn’t it?” she answered, taking the joint. “I expected a bit more, I dunno, fellowship? At least something more exciting.”
“He’s a weird old bird, isn’t he?” I said. I could just see him, on the edge of the promontory, a small living thing transfixed against dark red stone. “Seems bothered by these UFOs more than anything else.”
“You’re right, it’s like he hates the, actually,” she shrugged. “Maybe he’s nuts. Anyway, what say next weekend we head out to Pasadena? There’s an occult book fair on Saturday.”
“You’re on,” I said, blowing smoke rings into the night.
Crawford rejoined the circle shortly after Dana and I came back. The others had still been discussing the relative merits of the ETH vs Vallée’s Interdimensional Hypothesis vis-à-vis the Saucers, when he stomped up, finishing the last of his beers.
“Do you want some supper, Mr. Crawford,” asked one of the attendees, timidly. Crawford looked horrified at the idea, then laughed.
“My God,” he said. Then he clapped his hands. “Okay,” his voice was loud, strident, and his eyes were terribly bright and bulging. He was shaking with excitement, or fear. “Okay. It’s getting dark. Be night real soon. So, let’s go on up, and say hello.” He laughed again and started off, away from camp, marching uneasily into the desert. We looked at each other, shrugged, and got our packs and followed.
We walked for about fifteen minutes, then Crawford stopped and looked around. We were in a low bowl in the landscape, a blow out where the fierce Mojave winds had scoured the sand away and left a little depression. There were some big rocks to the left, a jumble of debris from some collapse, but otherwise we were right out in the open. The sky sprawled above us, the brightest stars I’d ever seen. Over the mountains, a heavy moon rose slowly into the night.
“Is this where we’ll see them?” whispered the prim woman, rubbing a purple chunk of quartz.
“It’s as good a place as any,” said Crawford, digging in his pocket for a cigarette. The nuts and bolts kid scrambled to set up his camera rig, a big tripod and a huge lens, very fancy and expensive. Crawford just kept laughing, looking around and seeing everyone’s preparations. Then we settled down and waited, sinking deeper into the night. Soon, I could barely see Dana next to me.
Then someone murmured a hushed alarm, and we all looked up. A light flickered in the sky overhead, bobbing slowly left and right, left and right. Another light joined it, and another. Soon there were six lights, then eight, circling overhead. They were very bright, so bright you couldn’t see anything about their shapes or detail – just glowing orbs, high in the sky. I heard the kid’s camera whirring and clicking. Then the lights started to grow brighter, stronger.
“They’re descending!” exclaimed the woman with the quartz. “They’re going to land!”
Crawford had been standing near the back of the group, on the edge of the little depression. I turned to see his reaction, but he wasn’t there.
“Look how beautiful they are!” said the quartz woman. “They’re like angels!”
“I can’t make out any structure or markings,” mumbled the kid, looking through his telescopic lens. They were sinking faster, streaking down towards the ground, darting like hungry fish. “In fact, they don’t look like machines at all,” he said, his voice growing shrill with surprise. “They look like –”
One of the lights dropped out of the sky suddenly, and we saw it clearly for the first time. It was illuminated from within, a bright central core of light that seemed to seep out through the rest of the thing’s body. It shimmered and quivered, and all I could think of was that it looked like an enormous jellyfish, a translucent bell, pulsating, the body quivering in time to the rapidly increasing beating of the central light. It hovered over us, and a strange wheezing sound, plaintive and longing, emerged from somewhere deep within the floating, living thing.
The woman dropped her quartz crystal.
A lashing tendril flicked out from the thing’s underside, wrapping around her. It dragged her screaming up and into the sky. The jellyfish ascended, and the woman’s screams grew fainter and fainter as they floated away.
We ran, and the rest of the swarm rippled and flopped and floated through the sky after us, swooping down, the terrible wheezing purr growing louder and louder. I saw the nuts-and-bolts kid taken, a pair of thin luminous strands tangling around him and lifting him into the sky. The jellyfish that took him floated ahead of me, going higher and higher, getting smaller and smaller. I heard a crunching sound ahead, and saw the kid’s camera fall and shatter against the rocks.
The screams were terrible, erupting out of panicked throats as the floating things swept over us, the whipping tendrils lashing around and victim and then dragging them higher and higher, the voices receding to nothing. Dana ran and I followed; if we could get to the cars we could make, I remember shouting that, get to the car, get to the car!
Then it grew lighter, the rocks brightening, our shadows darkening ahead of us. One of the things was on top of us, the light flashing and rippling like the surface of the sea in a gentle breeze. The sound of it! That wheezing, hissing, gasping noise! It grew closer, I felt a hot wind rolling over us, the night grew bright as day. I saw one of the tentacles stroke the ground next to me, felt the feathery touch of one on the back of my neck, cold and burning.
I fell, and somehow Dana got behind me, between me and it.
Her scream was terrible, pure animal horror ripping out of her throat. And it went on and on, got smaller and smaller, and then finally, I couldn’t hear it any more.
I lay curled in the dirt, sobbing, for some time.
When I could stand it, I lifted my head and looked around. It was silent, just the gentle hiss of the wind through the rocks, and it was dark, blessedly, wonderfully dark. I stumbled up and made my way slowly back to camp.
Crawford was sitting around the fire. He had a bottle, half gone, and he was mumbling something to himself. When he heard me approaching he leapt up, fear on his face, but when he recognized me he laughed and slapped his knee.
“How’d you get away, son?” he slurred.
“I fell,” I said, “it got Dana. Dana was between us, and I fell –”
“Hell, son,” said Crawford, “you don’t have to explain yourself to me, I know how it is. Oh, yes, I know how it is!” He laughed, a high wild sound that rattled among the rocks before slinking off to die in the desert. “Sit down, sit down,” he said, waving me over. “You’ve been through hell, but it ain’t over yet, no sir, not by a long shot.” I lurched over and collapsed into a chair across from him. He took a swing off the bottle and handed it to me, across the fire.
“You knew about them,” I said, drinking. “You knew they were here.”
“Yes,” he said, sadly. “That’s what the lights are, the lights in the sky. UFOs,” he spat. “True enough, but I identified ‘em, yes sir, I did.” He chuckled to himself. “Nuts and bolts, ha!”
“What are they?” I whispered.
“You know as well as I do,” he said, stroking his chin. “They come from out there,” he waved into the darkness. “Not space I think, not exactly. The stuff that isn’t space, the real emptiness out there. They’re terrible!” he stared forward, his eyes suddenly swimming with horror.
“But why?” I asked. “Why bring people out here to them?”
“Ah,” he shook his head. “I’ll tell you a story. You’re lucky you got me, in a way, though that ain’t the word for it. ‘Lucky’ you’re not, trust me. But at least I can give you a leg up.” He stirred the fire a bit, and then held out his hand. I returned the bottle and he drank.
“Lesee,” he said. “It was in late 70’s, ’78 or ’79 I think. Me and some friends had found something, something strange and marvelous. There was an old bookstore in ‘Frisco, gone now, long gone, called Gnosis Books. Esoteric stuff, occult, weird books, old books. The owner would go all around, buy up the strangest things he could find at estate sales. Well, one of the things he’d bought up was the notes of Jack Parsons. You heard of him? No? He was a rocket scientist, back in the 30s and 40s, but he was an acolyte of ol’ Aleister Crowley himself. Deep into magic, the occult, but also space! He believed Crowley had discovered a way to contact things from outside, intelligences not of this Earth. He spent much of his free time trying to do just that, to discover a way to call things down from out there.” He paused and drank.
“He did it too,” he continued, nodding into the dark. “Called them down, and when he realized what he’d done, realized what it meant, well, he decided he was better of dead. Smart man, ol’ Jack Parsons, brave too. Braver than me!
“Anyway, we found his book in that bookstore, and we knew what it was. We’d done it all in the 70s, all the magic and astrology and mysticism, but this was something we’d never seen before. His notes, all of them, about how to do the ritual, how to call them down! And we did.
“Took some time – it was hard, you had to get things just right, stars and drugs and everything had to be perfect. But we got it all together, and then in ’83 we went out to the desert. Three of us. Only one came back.” He ran a hand over his eyes and shivered.
“It came out of a hole in the sky, and it took Mike and Sam. It left me. Guess it was full.” He laughed darkly. “I ran, ran far away as I could. Figured we’d been punished and that was it. No more dabblin’ for me, no sir.” He shook his head. “Foolish, I know, but I was just hoping against hope.” He sighed.
“It was about a month later that I first saw it again. I’d gone back home, to Indianapolis, saw it out of the corner of my eye, floating there over the city. Thought I was just crazy, but then, in the papers the next day – UFOs! Everybody had seen it too! It was real!
“Kept on moving, down to Mexico for a while, but I kept seeing it. Everywhere I’d go, it’d be there, coming closer and closer, becoming more and more active. And everyone else saw it too! Always in the newspapers the day after, and that was the worst part! People, talking about space men, greys, but all the time I knew what it was! I knew what was out there!
“I was with someone, a lady, when it found me. It killed her, carried her up and away. Then I knew – knew it was hunting me. And if it ever got me alone…” he shuddered. “I couldn’t do it though, couldn’t do what Parsons had done when he realized what they were, how they would hunt him, forever! So I ran again. Gulf Breeze, Belgium, Montreal, the Phoenix Lights – all me, and the things that followed me!
“I never let them find me alone. I can tell when they’re getting hungry. They start circling like sharks, moving in for the kill. So I get someone, bring them out to a secluded spot, and when they come down out of the sky, that’s it. Everyone wants to see a UFO, don’t they, even if they don’t believe in ‘em. Well, I can guarantee it! I promise: with me, you’ll always see a UFO.
“At first, it was just the one, the original. Around about ’90 though, there were two. Then four in ’92. Eight in ’96. They just kept multiplying! I had to bring more people, twos and threes and then more, until what you saw tonight. Whole groups, out in the desert! To feed them, to keep them off me!
“It’s been getting worse, though – more of ‘em for one thing, but they’re coming around more frequently too. The time between feedings is less and less now. Used to be it’d be a year between swarmings, then half a year. Six times last year. But now? This one was only a month since the last time. There’re so many now!”
“Why’d they leave me?” I croaked, shivering in the cold night air of the desert.
“Ah, you were faster maybe, or smarter,” he looked sly. “Or maybe you did something to let ‘em know you’d be useful to them? I know, don’t say anything, we’re passed all that now. It touched you, didn’t it?” I ran my hand up and over my neck, felt the tender welt where the thing’s tentacle had grazed me. Crawford nodded and raised his shirt, a pale puckered slash running across his stomach and around his back. “It’s got the taste of you now, son. You’ll never be rid of them, not now, not ever. They’ll be back. You’ll start seeing them in the sky everywhere.”
“What’ll I do?” I sobbed.
“What’ll you do?” Crawford laughed, then grew suddenly angry. “What’ll you do!?” He leapt up and shouted at me. “You’ll do what you have to, boy, you’ll do what you must, to survive! It’s all there is! Move around, make no friends, not real ones, but find them, find the people who want to see them, who need to see something in the sky, and take them out into the dark and show them! It’s the only way! The only way!” He kicked the fire, scattering burning ashes that rose up to join the stars. He ran drunkenly into the dark. I heard a car door slam, an engine start, and saw headlights streaking across the desert, away from the camp, away from me. I was alone, just me and the hateful stars overhead.
A month later I was in the Milford, Oregon public library. The librarian, a kindly older man, was helping me at one of their computer stations. He clicked the button, squinted, and then clicked again.
“There we are, that should do it. Come on.” He led me over to the printer. It was humming warmly, spitting sheet after sheet out into the tray. He lifted one and read it. “‘UFO Club! Seeking new members to explore the mysteries of the Universe.’ Well, that’ll be real popular, after all them things in the sky folks have been seeing lately. You wanna put one up here on the bulletin board?” I nodded, and thanked him.